The Korea Herald


Rugby league to kick off 2012 season

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 28, 2012 - 10:37

    • Link copied

An expat 10s rugby union league in Korea is set to kick off its 2012 season on March 10.

Expat rugby was first played in Korea by Seoul Wanderers in 1972. In 1978, U.S. military rugby teams formed and the Wanderers were reborn as Seoul Survivors.

Despite the relatively long history of amateur rugby in Korea, as well as the long establishment of the Korea Rugby Union, it wasn’t until last year that eight amateur teams consisting of U.S. military and expat clubs began playing a league competition.

Currently, Camp Casey, Camp Humphreys, as well as U.S. bases in Osan and Yongsan field one team each to compete in the 10-a-side league with Seoul Survivors, Cheongju Knights, Jeonnam Aliens and Busan Bulls.

“Military rugby has been a long-standing tradition in Korea,” Severo Palacios, the U.S. military rugby coordinator, told Expat Living.

“And it’s been a strong showing except for the last 10 years because of the military surges in Afghanistan,” Palacios said.

“But now, with the reemergence of U.S. military rugby leagues we’re starting to develop our teams to be division level competitors so we can compete throughout Asia.”

However, not everyone is familiar with rugby, and it takes time and several games before players can pick up the sport.

“Expat clubs in Korea are compositions of players coming from all walks of the rugby community. They come from big rugby nations such as New Zealand, England or South Africa where rugby is played since at young age,” Palacios said.

“But in the U.S. military, rugby doesn’t develop until you get introduced to the sport at collegiate level or in the military. So the level of experience between military teams and expat teams is a large gap.”

The sport in Korea has grown significantly, and besides the domestic league, the teams also play against other teams outside the league such as Sangmu, a Korean military team, and colleges such as Korea University. They also participate in an annual Manila 10s tournament that began in 1989 and features 32 teams from around the world, including some high profile international players.

Seoul Survivors are also a founding team of the Yellow Sea Cup, a round-robin competition launched in 2005 by the Seoul Survivors, Beijing Devils and Shanghai Hairy Crabs, with Guangzhou Rams and Macau Rugby Club also having participated. The Survivors also play regularly against the Tokyo Gaijins as well as other clubs from Hong Kong and the Philippines.

Besides the pursuit of the game, rugby has a positive social side.

“Coming from a small country like New Zealand, there are not many opportunities to meet people from different countries, but after coming to Korea and joining the Survivors, I got to meet players from around the world,” said the Survivors manager Dae Ho Ko.

“Also traveling around Korea and Asia and being able to play against other expat teams and enjoy seeing different culture is also a great part of the club.”

Palacios states that rugby is a good way of keeping soldiers’ morale high.

“It keeps soldiers out of trouble because it keeps them busy, active, and also connected to the community because we do a lot of events that are community related, such as donating money, visiting orphanages, and a lot of philanthropic stuff.”

Expat clubs are also active in their charitable activities.

“In addition to playing and training, the club has a number of social events, and does charity work with a local orphanage. The popular Movember Fundraiser has raised close to 10 million won over the past 3 years with the money being used to support children in need,” said Nick Goodman, the head coach of Seoul Survivors.

Despite the recent growth of amateur rugby in Korea, there is plenty of room for improvement.

This applies not only at amateur level, but also at the international level where Korea has stalled. Once spoken of in the same breath as Japan, it was booted out of the Asia 5 Nation’s top class in 2010.

Despite keeping its visit to the lower division to just one year, Korea Rugby Union still has much work to do.

“The game is not promoted well enough in Korea, with little effort put into attracting new players and supporters to the game,” Goodman said.

“Unfortunately Korea has fallen behind man of its regional rivals who are blessed with less myopic and more progressive administrations. Hopefully, the chance to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games 7’s and the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan will provide the catalyst for change.”

The 2012 season will begin with a warm-up match between Seoul Survivors and All Yanks, a combined U.S. military rugby team, at Lombardo Field on the Yongsan base on March 3.

All the teams, including the U.S. military teams, are open to anybody interested in playing regardless of nationality. To join a team, contact your local team through Facebook or team websites.

By John Lee